Monday, October 10, 2011

The "A" Circle

Post by Jenny

I know The "A" Circle sounds like a place where Brangelina might hang out, so let me clarify. On Thursday, I went to the NCW studio to hear Literary Agent Sara Megibow talk about the things authors must do before they can even think about getting published. Sara began by stretching out her arms, making a circle, and saying (I’ll paraphrase) here you writers are, in your circles, being artists. Then she stepped to the side and made another circle to describe her space, the publishing biz. I’ll call that The "B" Circle. A for Artist, B for Business…you’re with me here, right?

The majority of Sara’s class addressed the ways in which writers can increase their chances of gaining access to that coveted "B" Circle of agent representation and, hopefully, publication. Good news: it doesn’t involve sacrificing live chickens! Unless your book happens to be about sacrificing chickens. Or you’ve written a short story collection, in which case you might also need to hire a voodoo priestess. (If you were not able to attend the class, don’t despair. There are pages and pages of helpful information at The Nelson Literary Agency website.)

For the rest of the evening, I found myself mentally returning to the image of the artist’s circle. Now, I think of myself as a number of things: mother, wife, sister, daughter, competent wordsmith (on a good day), hopeless wanna-be (on a bad one), friend of Gayle and Rosie (oh, wait, that’s Oprah). But I never think of myself as an artist, so having an industry professional call me that, albeit indirectly, made me feel kinda warm and fuzzy inside.

But then I tried to picture my circle, where I presumably work and be happily artistic and drink wine—or at least learn how to spell gew├╝rztraminer. The image that came to mind was less like a circle and more like…an amoeba. Sort of shapeless, with a highly permeable outer membrane that lets all sorts of distractions—phone calls, Awkward Family Photos, jalapeno-cheddar potato chips, nagging self-doubt.

Oh, my. Time to shape up my circle.

Lacking an actual human-sized hamster ball in which I can curl up and be an artist while gnawing on seeds and dried corn, my circle will have to be a virtual one. I imagine it as a shining bubble around me that is ionized to let in the positive writer juju and deflect the negative. And with every keystroke—yes, even the backspaces; those are important, too—it grows brighter and stronger, bathing me in creativity while giving me an awesome sunless tan.

Much better.

Do you think of yourself as an artist? Do you have a space to call your circle?


Nathan Lowell said...

Sarah is "good people." I met her last year at MileHiCon.

But I think Sarah--like most agents--is still pre-Singularity. This idea of the "artist" circle and the "business" circle leaves a reality unexplained.

Art is business.

There are not two circles. Perhaps I'm missing out because I was doing "daddy taxi duty" last Thursday and unable to attend, but here's the crux.

According to the late Steve Jobs, "Real artists ship." I'm not sure if that's just an apocryphal story or not, but it's the reality. Artists--real artists, not hobbyists and amateurs, but real artists--ship. They make sales. They find buyers.

In the past, writers only sold to publishers. Sometimes an agent brokered the introduction. For most, it was the only game in town.

Today it's different. Publishers still buy books. Agents sometimes still broker introductions, but more and more artists are finding that selling direct to readers works out just fine. Publishers are finding the distribution-carrot to be less useful than in the past. Agents are wondering what their role in the business will be.

Yet, one thing remains constant.

Art is, and always has been, business, because "real artists ship."

Jenny said...

Nathan, thanks for your comment. Let me clarify that the (over)simplification of the circle idea is mine, not Sara's. She did talk quite a lot about the new age of publishing and the changing roles of both authors and agents. My ideal scenario is more of a Venn diagram of intersecting circles because I don't want to have to do all the business stuff myself. Real artists ship, but agents are our UPS...? :-)

Nathan Lowell said...

Thanks, Jenny.

I didn't want to read too much into it. Ms. Megibow has her head screwed on quite well and I didn't mean to slight her.


Agents and publishers are not on my list of "required participants for artistic success" these days. I can't afford to get a mainstream deal. As a professional author, I need to maximize my reach and revenue stream and that path no longer leads through NYC.

I'd love to be proven wrong on this, but the evidence overwhelms me.

And UPS is my UPS.

Jenny said...

Nathan, I wish you all the best on your path to artistic success!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Nice post, Jenny.

My artist circle is my little office which I'm now de-cluttering, re-arranging, and feng shuiing. In this place, I am a writer. I like it in Circle A and sometimes find it annoying that I have to pay attention to Circle B at all. Such is life.

I attended Sara's presentation and thought she represented her point of view as an agent in an interesting and helpful way. She also did a nice job of explaining how the publishing industry works today (not counting e-publishing and self-publishing which were not within her area of expertise).

Dean K Miller said...

I wanted to answer yes, but Nathan scared me. ;-} Even didn't mention writing in their definition of "artist" or "arts". But that is not a concern of mine. Call me what you will, it matters not.

My circle isn't a place, but the people I am meeting on this journey that scrapes the edeges of whatever "art" is.

My circle has grown to include educators, retired and current, nurses, writers, authors, animal lovers, international consultants, fishermen and women, family and others.

Without beginning, without end, my circle changes daily, and I along with it, unless I don't.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Well said, Dean.

Jenny said...

Thanks, Pat, for your thoughts on the presentation. And if you're like me, decluttering the office is an ongoing project!

Very nice, Dean. I like the idea of a people-circle.

Kay Theodoratus said...

I'm into simple-minded at the moment.
Writers create, therefore, they're artists by definition.

Once that's said, you can add all the qualifiers you want.

Jenny said...

Thanks, Kay, for your insight.

Toni said...

Hi Jenny,

I don't often comment on blogs but something about your post made me want to speak.

I love the idea of your little shiny sphere protecting you from the bad writing vibes and allowing the good writing vibes in.

I think this is something I can totally relate to. Great article and idea. Thanks.

Jenny said...

Thanks for your comment, Toni! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

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